HAMPTON ROADS — A national championship is on the line for Lionsbridge FC as it heads to Seattle this weekend for its final matchup of the season against Ballard FC.
As if championship-level soccer wasn’t exciting enough, the team also hosted the Eastern Conference Final and League Two Semifinal games at Towne Bank Stadium during the weekends of July 21 and July 28.
Mike Vest, co-president of Lionsbridge FC, was excited to fill the stands with soccer fans of all ages.
“It was incredible to be able to play games of consequence in front of our home fans. To be able to deliver four wins, there is nothing like it. The atmosphere was off the charts, the tension was incredibly high. It was just a blast,” Vest said.
The road to the championship was marked by an intense heatwave which caused games to start later than their scheduled time. The Lionsbridge faithful stayed up until 1:30 a.m. at Towne Bank Stadium to show their support as the team closed in on the Eastern title.
“Almost everyone stayed and we had a massive crowd. We finished up at 1:30 in the morning and it was just a party. It was pandemonium. We really felt like we had all the momentum with us and our fans were just amazing,” Vest said.
During the final matchup on July 30, Lionsbridge took on The Villages SC. Down 0-2 in the first 17 minutes, Lionsbridge was able to tie the game before the half. Ending regulation and overtime tied up at two a piece, the game went to penalty kicks. Lionsbridge emerged victorious with a 4-3 final score.
At Lionsbridge headquarters, the atmosphere is indescribable. Now, Vest is in the throws of planning flights to Seattle, scheduling interviews with local media, and checking in on the team. Many members of the community have already made plans to travel to Seattle to take in the championship game.
“Our fans have been so supportive all along, but on this ride in particular, the crowds have been so great. There are many people traveling to Seattle to cheer us on which is wonderful and really means a lot to the team,” Vest said.
Lionsbridge FC, which has only been in existence for six seasons, will play for its first national championship on Saturday. The team is taking it one game at a time, but is soaking in every moment of the experience.
“As you go through all the construction phases and you go through the seasons, you go through the ups and downs. You know that you have a really special opportunity but you also know that it can all come to an end in 90 minutes. You are on the edge of your seat the whole time,” Vest said.
A viewing party for those fans staying behind in Hampton Roads is planned for 10 p.m. at Coastal Fermentory in Newport News. The game will be projected on a screen in the parking lot. Watch party attendees are asked to bring chairs and to park in the Ironclad Distillery or City Hall lots.
Vest and the entire Lionsbridge organization are thankful to the fans.
“Thank you just feels so inadequate. We’ve asked a lot of them on this journey over the years. We’ve dealt with heat indexes, the cold, wildfires, air quality, rains, storms, it’s been an abnormal year in many many ways but our fans have always been there every single time we play. They are there time and time again and very few fan bases in our league would do that and ours show up and show out every single time and for every single game. The only way we can significantly thank them is to bring home a trophy,” Vest said.